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Opinion: Prioritize public health when building new animal operations

Tri-State Neighbor - 12/27/2017

During the 2017 Memorial weekend a group of South Dakota State University alumni had the opportunity to visit the new SDSU swine facility 1 ½ mile from Coughlin Alumni Stadium. Dean of animal science Dr. Joe Cassady gave us a great tour and explanation of the totally enclosed facility with biofilters and tree wind breaks.

This type of facility should be the model for all swine facilities in South Dakota. Biofilters work and do the job removing much of the harmful particulates from the air. Also the 1 ½ mile setback should be the industry minimum standard.

The new age of animal agriculture production is about volume, and with it comes huge issues concerning public health and safety. The sheer volume of animal waste (fertilizer) and its level of concentration must be addressed. Just because a facility does not stink does not mean there are not harmful particulates in the air. Modern science has addressed safety issues concerning other industries. Now it is agriculture's turn.

Odor and particulates: Retired SDSU professor Dr. Dick Nicolai gave a good presentation last year in Tyndall on biofilters and their effectiveness in swine barns. His study used large-flake wood chips outside the barns at the Southeast Experiment Farm near Beresford with a 80-95 percent reduction in odor, particulates and airborne disease transmission. Reductions in PRRS, staph, strep, MERSA and other diseases by the use of these filters were explained.

Biofilters do not work in curtain-type finishing barns. Producers need to use this effective tool to be good neighbors. Finishing barns should be constructed with biofilters and curtain barn construction halted until better methods are developed to control odor and drift.

Shelter belts: Shelter belts on all sides of a CAFO should be planted with eastern red cedars on higher ground and willows, dogwoods and cottonwoods in low lying areas. Cedars do an excellent job of absorbing dust and odor. Drift has been detected more than 3 miles from CAFOs. Although the smell may be gone, the particulates dust and other issues still exist.

Feed additives: Yeasts and other additives appear to have a positive effect on reducing odors from CAFOs. Soybean and corn oil added in the feed reduce the dust in and around the building. There appears to be less coughing, better gain and more content pigs with these products.

The 3-mile rule: At a Hutchinson County zoning meeting, a young man brought out the fact he could not build his CAFO within 3 miles of another entity's pig operation. The reason given was disease prevention.

Why is it OK to build these types of facilities right next to your neighbor with no rules of regulation if they are under the 2,500-head swine CAFO limit?

Does this mean pigs are more important than people? It appears so. Diseases are mutating in the chicken and swine industries and may take a form to negatively affect human health.

A 1-mile setback from a rural residence is a must. The current half mile in Bon Homme County and quarter mile setback in Yankton County is not addressing the issue adequately.

A 2-mile setback from rural towns is a must. Some municipalities in our great country require a 3-mile setback. Concerns for the health and welfare of our city, county and state residents should trump the need for so called "cheap food."

Bonding: Rules should require bonding of buildings for cleanup in case of business failure. This is an important protection for our aquifers lakes streams and wells.

There should also be bonding for loss of property values. Property values have plummeted 10-60 percent around the nation when CAFOs are built next door. A bond would also be a protection for the county and CAFO owner-operator from nuisance lawsuits.

Rules should require tougher county road agreements for when feed trucks or semi trailers tear up the roads during wet or blizzard conditions.

As the new pork plant comes on line in Sioux City, the need for common sense in siting new farrowing, nursery and finishing facilities is needed. Location, biofilters, shelterbelts and other measures must be implemented. Public health and safety must be the priority.

There is an old saying used by opponents of these outdated CAFOs: "Not in my backyard." It may be better to say, "Not in anyone's backyard" if swine CAFOs do not adopt the latest proven technology like that used by SDSU.

We need modern day livestock production decisions based on sound science and common sense, including safer buildings and manure management that provides adequate protection for the general public.


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